Creation and Evolution (Part 5)

May 21, 2013     Time: 00:18:45

We have been talking for the last several lessons about different interpretations of Genesis chapter 1. Last time we looked at the Gap Interpretation which says that between verse 1 and verse 2 of Genesis chapter 1 there is a great time gap during which there was a prehistoric world – a world of organisms and perhaps even civilizations that was judged by God and destroyed – and then Genesis 1:2 describes God’s recreation of the world. I suggested that there is nothing in the text to suggest that verse 2 is merely a recreation. This interpretation seems to be an example of concordism at its very worst. Namely, under the pressure of the scientific evidence for geological time and prehistoric life, one reads into the text things that aren’t really there.

Day-Gap Interpretation

Let’s go on to the Day-Gap Interpretation. This is somewhat different. The Day-Gap Interpretation holds that what we have described in Genesis chapter 1 is six 24-hour but non-consecutive days. Six literal 24-hour days but they are not consecutive days; rather, there are long gaps of time in between God’s creative acts. So, for example, on one day God miraculously creates the birds. Then there is this long period of time during which God allows, for example, the birds to propagate. They bear after their kinds. Then he intervenes again on another creative day and miraculously creates, for example, land animals. Then he allows them to propagate for a long period of time after their kinds until he intervenes again. So you have six 24-hour creative days but they are separated by great periods of time.

What might one say by way of assessment of this theory? Again, I think we have to say that there is nothing in the text that would suggest the Day-Gap Interpretation. There is nothing in the text that would indicate that there are gaps of time in between these six days. It seems to me that the clear motivation behind this interpretation is to try to reconcile the text with geological time and limited evolutionary development of life forms. You read gaps into the text in between the days so as to extend the past as far as geological evidence indicates it needs to be and then you can allow for limited evolution of the kinds during those gaps. Insofar as this view tends to be motivated by an attempt to reconcile Genesis 1 with the discoveries of modern science, I think that what we have here is an example of the hermeneutic of concordism once again which, I think, is eisegesis, not exegesis. It is reading into the text rather than out of the text.

Ironically, it needs to be said as well that it really doesn’t do a very good job at reconciling the text with modern science in any case because modern science indicates that the animals, for example, were not created in just a 24-hour period of time. They were created over millions of years – even the so-called Cambrian Explosion wasn’t something that happened in a 24-hour day but over vast periods of geological time. So the idea that all aquatic life, for example, was created in 24 hours and then there was this long period of non-creative development and then there was another 24-hour period during which all terrestrial life was created just flies in the face of the fossil record. So insofar as this Day-Gap Interpretation is motivated by a desire to find concord with modern science, it really doesn’t do a very good job frankly.1

But that is beside the point, actually, for the hermeneutical project that we are engaged in at this stage. We are simply asking the hermeneutical question, “What does the text mean?” I think we have to say that the Day-Gap Interpretation doesn’t really find any support in the text. It is a view that is read into the text.

Question: How does the Day-Gap Interpretation resolve day 4 – the creation of the sun?

Answer: It really wouldn’t seem to do anything for that, would it? Because you would still have that being created in a 24-hour day. They would probably have to interpret that again in the way that some Young Earthers have, namely, the clearing of the cloud canopy or something else where the sun now appears. But, you are right; merely having gaps wouldn’t help with that problem.

Question: How prevalent is this view? I never really heard it being purported.

Answer: I don’t think that it is very prevalent though it has been proposed. We are just trying to survey the various options. This would be one. Actually, I heard, when I was in college, that it was suggested by some progressive creationists. It would be a way to try to get geological time and limited evolution – you could accommodate the evidence for micro-evolutionary change without denying 24-hour periods of time. But I can’t really think of any modern advocates of this view today.

Day-Age Interpretation

Let’s go to the Day-Age Interpretation which is one that has been more widely held. The Day-Age Interpretation is one that has been suggested by a number of church fathers and other commentators down through history. It holds that the days are not literal 24-hour periods of time but rather these days are, in fact, long periods of time of unspecified duration. Though they are called days, they are not actually days; they are long time periods – ages. So what you have in the text is actually the description of God’s creation of life over six successive ages of indeterminate length.

As I pointed out, we do have in the text some suggestions that the days are not necessarily literal. You will recall what I had to say about God’s creation of the vegetation and the fruit trees on the third day where God commands the earth to bring forth these plants. We probably would be imagining things if we thought the author thought this was like a film being run on fast-forward – that it all happened in a 24-hour period of time. So I think there is some indication in the text that these days are not necessarily literal. On the other hand, the idea that the text intends us to take these days as six consecutive ages, especially ages of equal duration, is again something that is being read into the text rather than being read out of the text. I think there are indications in the text that the days may not be literal, but that doesn’t mean that it is intended to describe six consecutive ages especially of equal duration.

In fact, again, insofar as those who propose the Day-Age Interpretation are motivated by modern science to embrace this view, it really still does not fit with what modern science says in many respects. For example, the evidence doesn’t support the view that certain forms of life did not appear on the scene until the previous age was over. It is not as though you had to wait for one age to be complete before the animals or the plants in the next age came into existence. To give a specific example, according to the scientific evidence, terrestrial life appeared long before birds appeared on the scene. Yet, the text has birds being created during the third age prior to the creation of land animals in the fourth age. So you actually had birds before you had terrestrial life and that is completely contrary to the fossil record and the scientific evidence.2 Some interpreters have tried to escape this difficulty by saying perhaps the ages are not really consecutive ages. Maybe they are overlapping so that, for example, you would have age 1 and then you would have age 2 which might begin midway through age 1 and then age 3 and then age 4 so that you could have animals appearing midway through the previous age even though they are described as being in the succeeding age (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 - Overlapping Day-Ages

But I think we have to say that this hypothesis is clearly a contrivance which is trying to save the accuracy of the text and bring it into line with modern scientific evidence. It would be hopeless to try to discern in the text itself any suggestion that these days, or ages, are not consecutive. Not one after another but somehow begin in the middle of each other and continue. It is clearly, again, trying to read modern science back into the text and to make the text conform to modern science.

So while I would say that the Day-Age Interpretation is certainly a possibility – it is a possibility that the author did want us to think of this as six consecutive ages – nevertheless, apart from the fact that the days aren’t necessarily literal, there really isn’t much support in the text for thinking that the days are meant to represent ages. So if there are other interpretations that take the days non-literally as well, we’ll have to compare the Day-Age Interpretation with these other non-literal interpretations to try to discern which one is the most plausible interpretation of the text. But merely saying that the days aren’t literal doesn’t itself imply that the author intended us to be thinking of six consecutive ages during which things were created on earth.

Question: I understand that when a verse reads “and there was evening and then morning” that this can mean there is a beginning of the age, or time, and there was an ending of the time. So that kind of shoots this steps idea or crossing over of ages [he is referring to Figure 1.]

Answer: You mean when it says “there was evening then there was morning” that that would suggest this is the evening and so the morning of the next age would begin right after it. That would seem to be the natural interpretation. If I understand you correctly, when you have age 1 then it says “and it was evening and it was morning, one day” and then the next day starts. And then it was evening and it was morning and then that was the next day. So the ages look consecutive, don’t they? I think clearly this idea [referring to Figure 1 and the overlapping of the ages], though clever, is really ad hoc or contrived. The natural language, I think, would be such as you have said.

Followup: So you are agreeing there are a beginning point and an end point to the verses?

Answer: Right, they look like consecutive ages. If these are ages, they would look consecutive to me and not this sort of staggered set of ages.

Question: The thought occurred to me that the Sabbath starts in the evening. Not the morning. So it goes from evening to morning, right? Is that why the Jewish faith took that position – because of what the Scripture says about evening and morning?

Answer: I would say it is rather the reverse. I think the reason that the Genesis narrative is written in terms of “it was evening and it was morning” is because this reflects the later Jewish ritual way of counting days where the day starts at 6pm in the evening with the setting of the sun and then it ends the next day at the setting of the sun. So the days don’t run as we think of starting in the morning at dawn. It goes from dusk to dusk rather than from morning to morning as we do in our Western culture. The narrative reflects that practice.

Followup: You are saying that the Jewish people believe that the day starts at sundown?

Answer: Right.3

Question: Wasn’t Genesis 1 written before there were Jewish people?

Answer: Well, this is a question of authorship on which I am not taking any sort of stand. Traditionally, this is ascribed to Moses. The traditional authorship of the Pentateuch is ascribed to Moses. So in that sense it would be after Abraham and yes there would be Jewish people at this time.

Followup: I thought that the authorship of Genesis was not ascribed to Moses – that it was ascribed, again, back to the tablet – the Toledot – I was described as a series of Toledots . . .

Answer: That is just the generations.

Followup: The generations, yes exactly. It is ascribed in the book itself – it says these were the days of Adam. They wrote these tablets, they have discovered these tablets in the Middle East, and each of these tablets wrote the generation and their account of what happened. That is why it looks like there is repetitiveness. Because you get one description of the generation and then the next author writes a little bit about it and it looks like there is repetitiveness.

Answer: When you look at the way New Testament authors quote the Old Testament Pentateuch (the first five books) they will often say, “As Moses said” or “When Moses is read.” They are thinking of this as being ascribed to Moses. But that isn’t inconsistent with saying Moses had sources and traditions, maybe oral traditions, upon which he relied on writing. So the date of the original Genesis account is not one that I am taking any sort of stand on in terms of when it was actually written. Liberal scholars would date it much later but to say it is Mosaic would be a conservative position that would put it very early rather than later in the history of Israel. But in either case, there would certainly be a Jewish people here that would tell this story.

Followup: I really think that Moses couldn’t have written this unless he had sources – unless he made it up. So he has got sources from this so the authors of the sources were clearly not Moses and it was clearly before there were Jewish people. That is why I question that.

Answer: I think this is a really, really important question that Old Testament scholars debate vociferously – the sources for Genesis. You would have to then try to discern which elements in the narrative represent the sources and which represent the editorial work of the final redactor or the editor and so forth. That is really a controverted question. There are source theories about Genesis which we are simply not getting into because we are asking “How do we interpret the text as we have it?” rather than try to discern these traditions that may have lain behind it which is very controverted and difficult.4

1 4:55

2 10:02

3 15:03

4 Total Running Time: 18:44 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)